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Utah Jazz: Team packs bags early

Sluggish effort allows Lakers to take control

SALT LAKE CITY — Carlos Boozer was in Cabo. Deron Williams was in Dallas.

And the Los Angeles Lakers were in Utah on Wednesday night, which proved to be an unfortunate thing for the Jazz in their final outing before the NBA All-Star Weekend in Texas.

Because even without injured All-Star Kobe Bryant, the Lakers had no trouble handling a Jazz bunch whose minds may have been elsewhere and bodies that didn't do anything to disprove the notion their break already was under way.

L.A. handily beat Utah 96-81 at sold-out EnergySolutions Arena, snapping the Jazz's nine-game overall win streak, squashing its string of 10 straight victories at home and prompting coach Jerry Sloan to wonder if his 32-18 team had indeed checked out early.

"I've seen times where, at the end of the year, you get in tough games, guys already have the U-Haul trailers packed," said Sloan, who himself is headed to his Illinois farm before the Jazz's regular season resumes with a four-game road trip that opens Tuesday night at Houston. "I don't know if we had our planes already lined up to leave today or not."

The Western Conference-leading and defending NBA-champion Lakers, meanwhile, were in blast-off mode even with Bryant missing a third straight game due to his sprained left ankle.

With Pau Gasol producing a 22-point, 19-rebound double-double, Lamar Odom scoring a career-high 25 and pulling down 11 boards, and Jordan Farmar adding 18 points off the bench, the 41-13 Lakers won their third straight without the injured Bryant.

"We had a great streak," Williams said after the Jazz failed to produce what would have been just the 10th double-digit win streak in franchise history.

"We lost against a great team," added first-time All-Star Williams, who scored just 11, dished 10 assists and nabbed a career-high nine rebounds, finishing just one board shy of what would have been a rather meaningless first career triple-double. "You know, regardless of Kobe Bryant, they're still a good team and they came in here and played well and beat us, and I give them credit for being a tough team."

Sloan offered anything but for his, which one night after rallying to win on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers acted as if perhaps they thought they could skate against a Lakers club also missing injured starting center Andrew Bynum (hip).

Despite the absence of L.A.'s third-best big, behind Gasol and Odom, Boozer — headed for a short vacation in the Mexico resort town of Cabo San Lucas after failing to be named to his third All-Star Game — mustered only an 11-point and 10-board double-double while usually strong-shooting center Mehmet Okur made just 3-of-10 from the field.

"They were very tough," Williams said of the Gasol-Odom tandem. "Lamar's always played well against us. He just stretches us out, and his ability to get on top of the basket is hard to guard for our big men, and I don't think we did a good job of helping them out.

"They just got too many easy baskets, too many layups," he added, "and we just played soft."

The Jazz also got a sub-par performance from the same bench that saved them against the Clippers. Only rookie Wesley Matthews (13) scored in double figures.

"Where our energy was is beyond me," Sloan said. "We played (Tuesday) night and got home in plenty of time to get eight hours' sleep. Our energy level was very, very low."

And he saw that as no excuse, even if the Jazz's battery may have been drained to its last bar by a win streak that started with a Jan. 20 win at San Antonio and featured key West victories as well over Portland (twice), Dallas and Denver.

"The teams that are able to grind it out grind it out instead of bailing out," Sloan said, "and I thought we bailed out a little bit tonight."

Utah permitted the Lakers a 13-point lead after one quarter and, when Farmer drained a 3-pointer with a minute-and-a-half to go in the third quarter, that advantage went up to a game-high 21 at 76-55.

The Jazz never got closer than to within 12 in the fourth quarter, which came when 17-point team-high scorer Andrei Kirilenko's jumper made it 79-67 L.A. with 7:18 left.

When Sloan pulled Kirilenko and Williams with 2:50 remaining, the Laker lead was back up to 18 at 92-74.

"We should have come out and at least attempted to win the game," said backup power forward Paul Millsap, who on his 25th birthday, shot 4-for-5 but had only three rebounds in 18 minutes.

"It's a tough game for us to swallow," added Williams, who did have a Dallas-bound charter flight out of Utah on Wednesday night. "But we had a great run."

e-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com